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Office XP vs. bugs, round two

Microsoft plans to release its second "comprehensive" collection of bug fixes, or service pack, on Wednesday.

Microsoft on Wednesday plans to release its second collection of bug fixes, or service pack, to Office XP, the company confirmed Tuesday.

Service Pack 2, a 15MB download, is supposed to enhance Office XP's performance, security and stability, while fixing a wide range of glitches, Microsoft said.

"This is a very comprehensive service pack," said Simon Marks, Office product manager.

The software giant issued the first Office XP service pack in December.

Microsoft regularly releases consolidated bug-fix updates for its products. The Redmond, Wash.-based company issued Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 at the end of July. Microsoft could release Windows XP Service Pack 1 as early as Aug. 28.

Like other updates, Office XP Service Pack 2 incorporates previously released patches and security fixes. On the security side, the update includes an April fix for an Outlook e-mail bug and June patch protecting Word and Excel from malicious code embedded in macros.

Microsoft also included five separately released smaller fixes from April, May and June. One updates the Office XP spell checker, while others resolve bugs in Word and Excel. Service Pack 2 also addresses glitches with Access, FrontPage, Publisher, PowerPoint and SharePoint Team Services, as well as problems affecting all of Office.

Among the glitches fixed: Failure to set transparent color in PowerPoint; Word failure when running the Italian grammar checker; Outlook e-mail attachments fail to appear when connecting to a Unix server; Pictures in documents saved in earlier Office versions are flipped; and problems displaying scrollbars in Access.

The service pack also addresses a problem with the wording of the German privacy policy and the inability to set Ukrainian as the default language when using the U.S. or Ukrainian version of Office XP.

Microsoft launched Office XP in May 2001.

Updating Office
Wednesday's update will be the first major change to Office XP since Microsoft fully implemented a new licensing program for buying the product in volume. Companies looking to continue buying Office at a discount had until July 31 to sign up for the new program, called Licensing 6. Businesses had to sign up for an older annuity program that expired on that day or enroll in the new one "Software Assurance" annuity program to continue getting discounts. Previously, large customers could buy software licenses at will. Under the new program, customers must pay 29 percent of the full cost annually for two or three years.

Volume licensees also had to move to the current version of Office--which as of Aug. 1 is XP--to be eligible for discounted upgrades. Otherwise, they could be compelled to pay full price when they next decided to upgrade.

Analysts estimate that as many as two-thirds of Microsoft customers skipped the new licensing program, citing higher costs. The new program would cost most businesses 33 percent to 107 percent than the old one, according to Gartner Group.

Microsoft estimates that out of about 150 million legally licensed copies of Office, about 80 million are Office XP.

The current product's successor, code-named Office 11, is expected to be released by mid 2003, which would deliver Licensing 6 participants their first major upgrade as part of their annuity agreements.

"Microsoft understands that customers won't stand for paying for something up front and getting nothing in return. Delivering the next version on time will be very important," said Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio.

Microsoft has many changes on tap for Office 11, which tentatively include making Extensible Markup Language (XML)--an emerging industry standard for data description and exchange and a central technology for delivering .Net Web services--the default file format.

The new XML capability of Office is intended to make it easier to link desktop programs, such as spreadsheets and word-processing documents, into corporate data stored in customer relationship management (CRM) and other business systems. XML also would make possible ancillary subscription services--such as online calendaring and Web-based e-mail--planned for Office 11 and offer better document access on Pocket PC handhelds and cell phones.